Attitude to learning, and why it matters

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I’ve been sharing my assemblies this week with the wonderful cast of Sweeney Todd, who are preparing for their performances at the Playhouse, Weston-super-Mare, on 26th-28th February (click here for tickets!) Before they steal the show, I have been talking to each house about the importance of attitude to learning, and why it matters.

Attitude to learning is the way we assess and monitor students’ approaches to their studies. The descriptors are used by each teacher to assess students’ attitudes in their classes, and these attitudes are reported home three times a year. We place a great deal of emphasis on attitudes to learning – but why does it matter so much?

example hm report

Over the past three years we have been gathering data on attitudes to learning and comparing it to GCSE progress scores. To do this we convert the attitude to learning grades in each report into a percentage score: all “highly motivated” grades would score 100%, all “disengaged” would score 0%. What we’ve found is that students with average attitude to learning scores over Years 9, 10 and 11 over 80% made an average of three-quarters of a grade better progress than similar students nationally. Students averaging over 90% on attitude to learning made, on average, a whole GCSE grade better progress than similar students nationally.

What I love about this is that everyone can control their attitude to learning. The behaviours listed under “engaged” and “highly motivated” are things that any student can do, if they choose to. It doesn’t matter whether you find learning easy or difficult; if you are getting the top grades or not; or which subjects you enjoy the most: everyone can choose to show that they are engaged or highly motivated in their learning. If students do make those choices, and show consistently good attitudes to learning, they are giving themselves the best possible chance of making exceptional progress. This is the mission for when students return after the half term break: what choices will they make about their attitude to learning?

Climate for Learning

Climate for learning-Transf badge (2)

Over the past four years we have been working hard at Churchill to develop an exceptional climate for learning. The climate for learning consists of the relationships between staff and students; the environment in which learning take place; and the way in which the learning is managed by both staff and students. The climate has been carefully managed through our focus on attitudes to learning, our revised code of conduct, our thoughtful classroom design and investment in our buildings. This year, especially, staff and students have been working to develop metacognition in lessons. This process, best described as “thinking about thinking,” is a common thread with many of our most successful students. Knowing how to improve, responding positively to feedback, and developing a bank of strategies and approaches which work, allows these students to apply themselves more purposefully to their learning. This year, we have been working hard to provide all students with access to these strategies.

I am delighted to announce that our work on developing a positive climate for learning has now been nationally recognised by the Leading Edge programme from the Schools, Students and Teachers Network (SSAT). Leading Edge is a network of high performing schools, and provides accreditation through the Framework for Exceptional Education – a challenging school improvement framework designed to stretch and challenge schools which have already been recognised as high-performing by Ofsted.

This year we applied for “transforming” status in climate for learning under the Framework for Exceptional Education. This is the highest level available, and would show that we were national leaders in the field. We had to demonstrate that, at Churchill:

  • All staff establish excellent working relationships with learners. High levels of trust ensure interactivity and continual learning dialogue, which challenges and extends learners to apply, evaluate and create. Learners respond well to the high level of challenge and expectations in a climate where they have high self-confidence and self-esteem so that they are able to take risks with their learning.
  • Every space has a learning purpose and is inspiring for teachers and learners. The environment ensures learners are able to develop and access the strategies/solutions needed to move on independently of teacher instruction as well as celebrating excellent outcomes.
  • Classroom management is characterised by highly collaborative and respectful relationships; learner interactivity is the norm. Learners routinely reflect on how they learn and undertake this through a wide range of contexts and methods.

Having submitted our evidence, we were then subject to a peer review by visitors from another high performing school within the Leading Edge Network, and moderation by a visiting assessor from the SSAT. The process has taken months, but I am proud to say that this we received confirmation from the SSAT that we had successfully met the standard and been awarded our badge! This makes us one of the leading schools nationally for this area of school improvement.

Our peer reviewer said:

“the research and thought that has gone into the new buildings has led to the development of some outstanding learning environments with a sense of coherence and consistency, and the use of limited display space has focused students’ learning, as well as reducing unnecessary staff workload.
There is a clear communication of ethos, which again supports the goal of consistency across the school.
Students’ behaviour was very good in all lessons visited. All students were focused on their work, and showed enthusiasm in lessons; many were confident to contribute, showing a climate of trust.
I was impressed with the very obvious prioritising of student well-being and support. Staff morale has been greatly boosted. Staff workload is being positively impacted. The whole-school focus on learning behaviours will make students enjoy being at school even more.”

Our SSAT moderator said:

“Planning has been under-pinned by a vision of learning that recognises that expectations about behaviour for learning are grounded in challenge and aspiration in the classroom and this has ensured that all staff recognise that fostering effective learning behaviour is the responsibility of all staff. There is a strong community ‘buy in’ because staff and students have contributed to both planning and evidence gathering. As a consequence transactions with students focus on positive communication. This ‘buy in’ is evident in the ethos of classrooms. Work was purposeful with a strong sense of teacher student partnership. Assessment practice aids students in identifying how they can improve thus promoting engagement and aspiration. On- going work in profiling attitude to learning reinforces the positive and supports a more evidenced approach to intervention.”

It is fantastic that visitors to Churchill recognise the highly effective culture that we are building at the Academy. All the staff and students at Churchill contribute to developing this climate for learning: they deserve to feel as proud as I do that our hard work has been recognised in this way.

Holocaust Memorial Day

The Holocaust (The Shoah in Hebrew) was the attempt by the Nazis and their collaborators to murder all the Jews in Europe. The Nazi Party persecuted Jews throughout their time in power, victimising them and whipping up hatred based on their anti-semitic beliefs. After the invasion of Poland in 1939, Nazis forced Jews to live in confined areas called “ghettos,” in squalid and unsanitary conditions.

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Jews being held at gunpoint by Nazi SS troops in a Warsaw ghetto in 1943

Jews were subject to further persecution, removal of rights, forced labour and violence as the Nazis swept across Europe and Russia. In 1941, emboldened by their progress, the Nazis began a programme of systematic murder of Europe’s Jews. Death squads called Einsatzgruppen swept Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, killing Jews by firing squad. By the end of 1941 the first extermination camp, Chelmno in Poland, had been established. These camps, including Auschwitz, Treblinka, and others,  enabled the Nazis to commit mass murder throughout the rest of the Second World War.

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Jews on the selection ramp at Auschwitz II, c. May 1944. Women and children are lined up on one side, men on the other, waiting for the SS to determine who was fit for work. About 20 percent at Auschwitz were selected for work and the rest gassed

By the end of the Holocaust, six million Jewish men, women and children had been murdered in ghettos, mass-shootings, in concentration camps and extermination camps.

 

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Churchill students visiting Auschwitz to learn about the Holocaust during Activities Week 2019

I find the idea of the Holocaust unbearable. The fact that human beings – actual people – could be so inhuman in the treatment of others, is shocking. I will never forget my own visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp memorial site. I went when I was in Year 12, on a German exchange, with my German host family. The father of the family openly wept as we walked through the memorial, confronted by horrific images of the atrocities committed there, by Germans, just a generation before. I remember thinking at the time that the lessons learned from the horrors of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In recognition of this event, Holocaust Memorial Day on Monday used the theme of “Stand Together.” In the years leading up to the Holocaust, Nazi policies and propaganda deliberately encouraged divisions within German society – urging ‘Aryan’ Germans to keep themselves separate from their Jewish neighbours. The Holocaust was enabled by ordinary citizens not standing together with those people targeted and singled out as “others.” We can – and we must – do better.

Today there is increasing division in communities across the UK and the world. Now more than ever, we need to stand together with others in our communities in order to stop division and the spread of hostility in our society, because the horrors of the Holocaust can never be allowed to happen again.

 

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How to do revision right

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Preparing for exams is a big task. You need to revisit all the learning from across your course of study and ensure that you can bring it to mind, unaided, under the pressure of exam conditions. There’s no way to make the exams easy, but you can take the pressure off if you’ve done your revision right.

Over the course of this blog, I have covered the main techniques of revision several times. In this post, I’ll provide links to the key entries which outline the most effective strategies, so that you can revisit them yourselves. Above all, the most important thing about revision is to work your brain hard: if your brain is working hard, it’s more likely to retain the information it is working on.

Blog posts to support effective revision

  • How to revise: retrieval practice – time and again, retrieval practice has been shown to be the most effective way to commit information to memory. In this post from last year, I show how to use this technique, which should be the go-to staple for all exam preparation
  • Twelve ways families can support revision – whilst exams are taken solo, exam preparation is a team sport. In this post from 2018, I give twelve techniques for families to use to support students when preparing for exams.
  • Eating and drinking to improve brain power thanks to Miss Tucker, this post from 2019 focuses on the best ways to nourish and hydrate yourself so you can revise and learn effectively.
  • The six most effective revision techniques – in this series of posts from 2016-17, I outline the six techniques which research has shown to be most effective in ensuring you can learn – and remember – the material you are studying .The six posts explain:
    1. Retrieval Practice
    2. Spaced Practice
    3.  Elaboration
    4. Dual Coding
    5. Interleaving
    6. Concrete Examples

Good luck everyone!

My thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker

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I had a good chat with Year 11 during lunchtime last week where we discussed our thoughts on the latest – and last – film in the Star Wars story. These films have been around my whole life. The first one came out when I was three years old. I can remember going up to London to watch The Return of the Jedi in Leicester Square in 1983 for my younger brother’s birthday treat. The multiplex there had the full surround sound experience which had not yet reached our local cinema, and the experience of hearing the speeder bikes zooming past from behind me in my seat blew my mind! Anyone who has been into my office will know that my collection of Star Wars Lego has pride of place on a special shelf. So it was with some anticipation that I went with my family to watch Episode IX over the Christmas break. And I have some thoughts about it. This might seem an odd topic for a Headteacher’s Blog, but bear with me – it is relevant!

Before we go any further, this blog will be FULL OF SPOILERS. I am writing it assuming you have seen The Rise of Skywalker and you know what happens and what is revealed – or that you don’t care. If you haven’t seen it and you’ve avoided spoilers so far, come back and read this when you’ve seen the film.

Last chance…spoilers below…

Right, let’s begin.

Firstly, I enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. I thought the action scenes were amazing, and I liked the adventure. The lightsabre duel in the wreckage of the Death Star in the same location as Luke and Vader’s duel in Return of the Jedi was brilliant. Flying Stormtroopers? Loved it. Leia’s death? Perfectly judged. There were a few plot holes, for sure, but the whole thing rattled along like a good old sci-fi adventure film should. But I did feel let down by one thing (and here’s the major spoiler, last chance to bail out of this blog now!): the revelation that Rey is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine.

Here’s why I have a bad feeling about this.

I understand that The Last Jedi wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it. It managed to do that incredible thing of doing something completely unexpected within a franchise where everyone thought they knew the rules. Back in the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back did exactly the same thing. That completely iconic, legendary moment in Cloud City where Darth Vader reveals to Luke Skywalker: “I am your father.” It’s been imitated, parodied, copied and quoted so often since that it’s sometimes difficult to remember what a complete rug-pulling surprise that revelation was at the time. It was so significant that George Lucas eventually devoted three prequel films to showing how young Anakin Skywalker came to be the evil, masked Sith Lord who had also fathered the Jedi twins, Luke and Leia.

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“No! I am your father.” The moment that changed everything.

This was the moment that defined the films for many people. It has entered folklore. And when the new, Force-sensitive character of Rey was introduced in The Force Awakens, with mysterious unidentified parents who had disappeared, it was natural that many assumed that she was descended from some Jedi parentage too. It made sense. It played into the established mythology of Star Wars. How brave, then, how brilliant, how unexpected was the revelation in The Last Jedi that she wasn’t, actually, related to anyone special at all.

In the climactic scene in the ruins of Snoke’s throne room, Kylo Ren asks Rey “do you want to know the truth about your parents? Or have you always known?” In a brilliant performance from both Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley, Rey replies: “they were nobody.” Kylo Ren confirms: “they were filthy junk traders. Sold you off for drinking money…you have no place in this story. You come from nothing. You’re nothing.”

Every time I watch this scene I get the same shiver as when Darth Vader reveals he’s Luke’s father. It’s such an amazing twist: you don’t have to be related to anyone special to be a powerful Jedi. Because, by the end of the film, despite coming from nothing, Rey is single-handedly rescuing the resistance from the stronghold on Crait by lifting an entire rockfall with the Force. She’s nobody – but she’s incredible.

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“The Force is not a power you have. It’s not about lifting rocks.” But then again…

Of course, this is how the Jedi are supposed to be. Anakin Skywalker broke the Jedi code by marrying Padme and fathering children. Jedi weren’t supposed to marry. Therefore Luke and Leia were the exceptions in inheriting their abilities from a parent – every other Jedi was just “discovered”, like Rey, with Force abilities coming “from nothing.” The director of The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson, underlines this point in the very final scene of the film.

In this scene, a group of children on Canto Bight have been re-enacting Luke Skywalker’s last stand in the Battle of Crait. They are literally no-one: no parents, working as slaves in the stables of the oppressive casino-city. In the final scene, one boy steps out of the stable to sweep the floor. In a brilliant moment, he uses the Force to move the broom from its resting place into his hand. He is no-one, but he can use the Force – just like Rey. As the camera sets him against the starry sky, the broom becomes a lightsabre and this unknown, not-special, not-Skywalker child becomes the symbol of hope, the future of the resistance and the Jedi. It’s the perfect ending and the perfect message: you don’t have to be anyone special to be a hero.

Given how much I loved this aspect of The Last Jedi, I was pretty frustrated when Kylo Ren – yes, the same Kylo Ren who told Rey her parents were filthy junk traders – does a complete one-eighty in The Rise of Skywalker and tells her that actually, her parents (presumably just one of them?) were the children of Emperor Palpatine and he’s known this all along and, presumably, was just kidding in the previous film. Emperor Palpatine, who was never seen in the company of a woman, who trusted nobody, who lived a secret double life as a Sith Lord…who did he have this child with? And when? And why has it never been mentioned or even hinted at across eight other films?

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“Dark side Rey”: we all have a dark side. We don’t need to be related to a cackling source of pure evil to wrestle with the good and bad inside us.

It’s as though it was impossible for Rey to have such powerful Force abilities unless she was descended from someone “important.” But, as I’ve previously argued, I don’t think Yoda’s parents were anyone special, nor Obi-Wan Kenobi’s. Nor Qui-Gon Jinn’s, or Mace Windu’s, or anyone really except Luke, Leia, and Leia’s son Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. It’s as though all the work done by The Last Jedi to establish that strength is who you are, not where you’re from, is just ripped up and discarded in favour of “you can only be powerful if you’re descended from a powerful family.”

So, whilst I enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker, I was a lot happier with the message of the Star Wars universe from The Last Jedi: you don’t have to be anyone special to be special. It doesn’t matter who your parents, or your grandparents, are. It doesn’t matter if you’re born a princess or a junk trader, a stable boy or a farmer: what’s inside you makes you special. Finding that thing that makes you special, nurturing it, training it, and being honest with yourself about your strengths and your weaknesses – these are the things that will lead you to be the most powerful version of you that you can be.

This is the philosophy that guides me as a teacher, and as a school leader: every single one of us is special. It doesn’t matter what your family background is, where you come from, or your previous history. We all have the capacity to do incredible things, and to change the world around us. We just need to believe in ourselves, and have the right teacher to guide us.

May the Force be with you. Always.

Into the twenties: happy new year!

2020 fireworks

As the clock ticked over to midnight on New Year’s Eve, we bid goodbye to the 2010s (the teens?) and welcomed in the 2020s. It feels like the future has arrived! Over the past decade I’ve worked in three schools, moved house twice, had a book published, appeared on TV, and – of course – been appointed as Headteacher of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form.

Mrs McKay reminded me that Monday marked the fourth anniversary of my first day at Churchill in January 2016! Since then our school has seen some big changes:

  • The number of students at Churchill has risen from 1430 to 1581. We have an additional 151 students on our site compared to four years ago
  • The Sixth Form has grown from 256 to 276
  • Level 3 Value Added scores for Sixth Form outcomes have risen from +0.02 in 2016 to +0.17 in 2019
  • The proportion of students gaining a strong pass (grade 5+) in English and Maths GCSE has risen from 52.3% in 2017 to 54.8% in 2019
  • We marked our 60th Anniversary in 2017
  • The Academy has a new vision – to set no limits on what we can achieve – and we have introduced our values of kindness, curiosity and determination.
  • The Athene Donald Building, the Alan Turing Building, new main reception and admin, new staff and sixth form car park, “The Tower,” the Broadwalk, and refurbished classrooms in English and Maths have transformed the site and the learning environment.

Taking stock of all that, I feel very proud of what we have achieved together in four years. We are now developing our planning for the next five years, looking ahead to the next phase of the Academy’s progress and development. The future looks bright!

Happy New Year to everyone in the Churchill Academy & Sixth Form community.

Christmas at Churchill 2019

The students and staff at Churchill have excelled themselves this Christmas! The traditional Christmas lunch served by staff and accompanied by the staff choir, the Sixth Form fancy dress and revue, the church services and house activities. This year we included the new Headteacher’s Quiz which you can have a go at yourself at the bottom of this blog – just for fun!

Enjoy the photos from our Christmas celebrations, and may I wish all of you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Click here for the Christmas Quiz!

Election Day

Ballot box 'is key to democracy'

Here we go again!

This week the nation goes to the polls once again to vote for our local representatives in parliament. It has been a tense, confusing and frustrating period since the last election, with Brexit dominating the political scene and frequent turmoil in the House of Commons.

Schools and teachers have a responsibility to remain politically neutral – especially during an election season. This is right and proper. We serve a diverse community which includes the full spectrum of political views. Our role is to educate children and young people so that they can make informed choices about their vote when they are old enough to exercise that right. We aim to give our students the critical skills to be able to see through “fake news” and false claims made on any side of the argument, to get to the facts and the verifiable sources which provide reliable, objective information. In the current world of rapidly evolving social media stories, this can be a challenging task – but it is a vital one if our democracy is going to survive and flourish in the future.

Further than that, we must then educate our young people so they know what to do with the facts, once they have disentangled them from the noise of opinion online. What are the implications of the parties’ policies for their lives? What are the implications for their futures? What sort of society do they want to live in? What values do they hold, and who do they want to represent those values in parliament?

School funding

School Funding

Education funding was a major issue in the last election

One issue that it is my duty to highlight – as you might expect! – is education policy. I hope that parents and members of the Academy community take education into account when casting their votes on Thursday. In the last election, which was only in May 2017, school funding was a significant issue – as I highlighted in my blog post at the time. All of the major parties have included pledges to raise school funding in their manifestos this time, which is certainly welcome – but, as I indicated above, the facts behind the claims are always worth exploring. Websites such as the School Cuts site show what the implications of the different parties’ manifestos would be for the funding of individual schools across the country, including Churchill. Above all, I hope that whichever government is elected works with the education profession, trusting schools and school leaders to make the right evidence-informed decisions in the interests of all children and young people.

Casting your vote

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I have voted in every election since I was old enough to do so. I take the responsibility of casting my vote very seriously – I always read the manifestos (especially the education sections!) and research my local candidates. I want to make the most informed decision possible, and I vote not only in my interest but in the interest of all the students and teachers I am responsible for at Churchill. We are very lucky to live in a democracy where we have a free choice to make for our local representatives. I will be watching with interest on Thursday and into Friday as the results roll in, to try and see what the future holds…until the next election!

What the PISA tests tell us about growth mindset

What is PISA?

The Pisa tests are the Programme for International Student Assessment, in which the ability of 15-year-olds is tested every three years in reading, maths and science. The tests allow comparisons to be made between the education systems of different countries. They are voluntary but an increasing number of countries take part, wanting to see how their pupils compare by international standards.

The rankings are based on samples of pupils in each country – with about 600,000 pupils having taken this round of tests. The UK’s figures are based on a sample of about 14,000 pupils taking tests in almost 460 schools. Churchill took part in the Pisa tests in 2015, but we weren’t part of the sample in 2018.

This year the UK has gone up in the international rankings, particularly in maths (UK is 18th, up from 27th) and reading (UK is 14th, up from 22nd). You can read more about the PISA 2018 tests here.

The Pisa tests also ask questions designed to capture students’ attitudes and beliefs about school life and what it means to them. This year, for the first time, the Pisa tests asked students a question to understand whether or not they had a growth mindset.

What is a growth mindset?

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Growth mindset is term first coined by Professor Carol Dweck to describe the belief that your basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. It is the opposite of a fixed mindset, where you believe that you are born with a certain amount of ability and there isn’t anything you can do to change it.

The importance of a growth mindset is one of my most fundamental beliefs about education. So much so, I wrote a book about it!

What does PISA tell us about growth mindset?

In this year’s PISA tests, students from around the world were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “Your intelligence is something about you that you can’t change very much.” If students agreed with the statement, it showed they had a fixed mindset – that is, they believed they were born with a certain amount of intelligence and they couldn’t do much to change it. If the disagreed, it showed they had more of a growth mindset.

Answers to this question were then linked to the students’ responses to other questions in the tests to understand more about the importance of a growth mindset.

Lesson one: a growth mindset makes a difference

The PISA 2018 Report shows that students whose answers indicated that they had a growth mindset scored 32 points higher in reading than students whose answered indicated a fixed mindset. This was true even after the statistics had been adjusted to account for differences in the socio-economic backgrounds of the different countries.

The report also shows that:

“Students who believe that their abilities and intelligence can be developed over time (those with a “growth mindset”) also expressed less fear of failure than students who believe their abilities and intelligence are “fixed”. In PISA 2018, the students with a growth mindset reported greater motivation to master tasks…set more ambitious learning goals for themselves, attached greater importance to school, and were more  likely to expect to complete a university degree.”

From Pisa 2018: Insights and Interpretations by Andreas Schleicher

OECD

Lesson two: lots of students in the UK report having a growth mindset

Growth mindset PISA 2018

Out of 79 countries taking part, the UK came in the top 10 for students who believe that their abilities are not fixed and can be changed – well above the international average. This is good news! Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD (which runs the PISA tests) says:

“of all the judgments people make about themselves, the most influential is how capable they think they are of completing a task successfully…research shows that the belief that we are responsible for the results of our behaviour influences motivation, such that people are more likely to invest effort if they believe it will lead to the results they are trying to achieve.”

Lesson 3: a growth mindset can be taught

Teaching students more about the brain’s capacity to learn can help students to understand that the brain can change as we learn. This means that students are less likely to attribute failure to a lack of talent, and more likely to learn from setbacks. This is central to our approach at Churchill.

The PISA report also emphasises the importance of teachers, parents and school leaders believing in the potential of all children to succeed. This means having high expectations of all our students, and not reducing the level of challenge when learners struggle:

“When students struggle and teachers respond by lowering standards, teachers may imply that low achievement is the consequence of an inherent lack of ability. Unlike effort, talent is seen as something that students have no control over, so students may be more likely to give up rather than try harder…Parents, teachers and principals need to create an environment where children are encouraged to participate, and where educators believe in students’ potential to develop their skills and provide students with the necessary support and feedback.”

Lesson 4: developing a growth mindset is hard work

The PISA report says that the highest performing countries ensure that students are all educated together in comprehensive schools, with ambitious curricula and the unswerving belief that all children can achieve:

“In many countries, it has taken time to move from a belief that only a few students can succeed to embracing the idea that all students can achieve at high levels. It takes a concerted, multifaceted programme of policy making and capacity building to attain that goal. But one of the patterns observed amongst the highest-performing countries is the gradual move from a system in which students were stratified into different types of secondary schools, with curricula demanding various levels of cognitive skills, to a system in which all students go to secondary schools with similarly demanding curricula.”

“It takes strong leadership, and thoughtful and sustained communication to bring parents along in this effort, particularly those benefiting from the more selective
tracks. In the end, education systems are unlikely to sustain high performance and equitable opportunities to learn without the premise that it is possible for all students to achieve at high levels – and that it is necessary for them to do so.”

This is hard work, but at Churchill we are committed to achieving it. The research shows that it’s worth it – and the UK is already moving in the right direction!

Music at Churchill

Over the past week I have had the pleasure of two wonderful musical experiences at Churchill. On Thursday night, I watched the culmination of the annual composition project. Our students worked alongside musicians from Worle School to write for a professional string quartet, under mentorship from composer-in-residence Sadie Harrison. Thursday’s recital saw their work performed by the Asana String Quartet, and it was a wonderful showcase of their creativity and skill. The pieces were by turns witty, melodramatic, spiky, smooth, and inventive. I was amazed!

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Last week I was at our Christmas Concerts at St Paul’s Church in Weston-super-Mare. This was a new venue for us, but we had a wonderful time there being entertained by all manner of music and musicians. See the Academy website for my full review!

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The Junior Choir rehearsing at St Paul’s ahead of the Christmas Concert

We are so fortunate to have a thriving music and performing arts department at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. In schools up and down the country, this part of the curriculum has been cut back and reduced. We are not one of those schools! At Churchill we have four music teachers and a team of instrumental teachers keeping music well and truly alive in the school! In the Christmas Concert Programme, the music team wrote about a year in the life of the Music Department throughout 2019. This shows you how much the musical life of the Academy has to offer!

A look back at the Music Department in 2019

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The 12th annual Churchill Young Musician of the Year competition took place on Monday 28th January at St John’s Church, Churchill. This fabulous event is held in partnership with Churchill Music. The audience was treated to a varied programme by eight of the Academy’s most promising musicians, with pieces from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century from composers including Handel, Chopin. Telemann, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Kapustin. The distinguished judging panel, chaired by Susanna Stranders from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, had the difficult task of selecting the winners. More important, however, was the specific feedback the panel provided to the performers, to help them improve and develop their stage presence, engagement with the audience, and musicality.

After much deliberation – during which the audience were treated to a performance by the Academy’s Chamber Choir – the Young Musician of the Year prize was awarded to pianist Jordan Walters. Jordan, who joined Churchill in Year 12 from Priory School, played two contrasting pieces by Chopin, holding the audience spellbound with his musicality and technical prowess.

The Ursual Dornton Vocal Prize – a new award, sponsored by the Trinity Singers in memory of the much missed Churchill Music trustee – was awarded to George Derry, who also won the audience prize which was voted for on the evening. His spirited rendition of “My Name is John Wellington Wells” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer brought the house down!

The Raymond Hayter Song Prize was won by Naomi Blowers, whilst the Churchill Music Junior Trophy was awarded to Ella Hutchinson for her performance on the cello.  The other competitors – Molly Sprouting (voice), John Skeen (piano), Maisie Slingsby (flute), Molly Johnson (voice), and George Skeen (violin) – also received awards for their participation in the finals.

Following the performance, all the winning students were invited to play at the Young Artists Showcase at St Georges, Bristol.

In February, Youthful Spirit Gospel Choir gave a performance in the school hall for the charity CentrePoint. The choir also gave a performance in late March for the Friends of Axbridge Church and also supported the RNLI by giving a joint concert with Joyful Spirit Gospel Choir. Weston Hospice Care has been supported by both Chamber Choir and Youthful Spirit – Chamber Choir sang at a Charity garden party in June to help raise funds for Weston Hospice; Youthful Spirit were invited to sing at the Anniversary Service for Weston Hospice Care’s 30th year at Christ Church.

In March, members of the Music Department were fortunate to attend an open rehearsal with Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason before their recent concert for Churchill Music! Sheku played cello at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and his sister Isata is an accomplished pianist.

The visit of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (RBC) LEAP Ensemble in March was a real highlight of the Music Department’s year.  The LEAP Ensemble are all advanced students from the RBC and they wowed hundreds of people with their playing over the two days.  They worked with Year 12 and 13 A Level Music students on their compositions, impressed with their Monday evening concert at All Saints’ Church, Wrington and then entertained 300 primary school students. In January 2020, our Music Technology A level students are looking forward to visiting Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

In April, Churchill Academy GCSE students were involved in composition workshops with New Music South West; this is a venture that allows our young students to have their compositions performed by professional musicians. In addition, the workshop allows composition tutors to work with our students to experiment with different techniques and arrangement styles.

Congratulations to Chloe Phipps, Year 10, Peter Skeen, Year 9, Molly Johnson, Year12, Holly Stoneman, Year 11, Matthew Lucas, Year 8, Molly Axtell, Year 9 and Martha Withers, Year 9  who all performed and won their classes during May’s Weston Festival of Music & Drama. In addition, Chloe played in three classes on her clarinet and she won each one, with Honours, and then won the overall Senior Wind Player prize and was presented with a cup. Peter was awarded an Honours mark for his performance on the cello. Both of them played in the winner’s concert in Weston Methodist Church.

The Music Department held a 3 day Summer Music Festival in the sunshine in late June. Bands and duos from year 7 – 10 took to the stage to an appreciative audience who also enjoyed ice-creams!

Gospel Choir Lake

July saw the Gospel Choir head off on their annual tour to Austria. As always this was hugely successful and saw audiences in excess of 1000.

Many congratulations to Junior Young Musician of the Year (2018) Kimi Powell who has been awarded a Robert Lewin Scholarship from the AYM Young Musicians’ charity. He has also been awarded a place on the South West Music school’s Performance Development Programme. Kimi is an accomplished drummer and percussionist, preparing for his Grade 8 this year. We’re sure he has a bright (and loud!) musical future ahead of him.

In August, we were very proud teachers of our Year 13 Music Class who achieved 100% B Grades at A Level.

In September, we welcomed the newest member of staff to the Music Department – Miss Dalwood. Miss Dalwood is a multi-instrumentalist who has really made an impact on the department!

September also saw the start of the rehearsing for the Christmas Concert alongside the whole school musical production of Sweeney Todd, which saw around 100 students audition to be part of a cast of 50.

In November, Chamber Choir gave a very successful concert of their full repertoire at All Saints Church Weston Super Mare alongside the Trinity Singers.  This choir welcomes students, teachers and parents and really focusses on demanding sacred and secular vocal music.

All of our GCSE and A Level Music students were treated to a visit by the Lyra Trio comprising 3 Royal Academy students who gave stunning performances and then answered questions about “life as a conservatoire student”.

Our Year 10 GCSE students are currently working with the Asan String Quartet and professional composer Sadie Harrison alongside Yr 9, 10 & 11 Worle students on an annual composition project. We are very lucky to have Churchill Music! supporting the Music Department at Churchill financially for these projects and enabling our students to experience life as a musician outside a departmental setting.

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Churchill’s annual Junior Young Musician of the Year competition took place on Thursday 24th October. Congratulations to Rhiannon Allen-House, winner of the Music Maestro Junior Young Musician Competition was awarded the Colin Undery Trophy for 2019. Rhiannon alongside Oscar Vince and Aislinn Shipton are performing as part of the Christmas Concert.

This Christmas Concert is really our highlight of the year and we welcome full inclusion. The Year 7 and 8 choir Junior Choir is a great way for our younger students to enjoy the community of the Academy in a fun, sociable way. It is definitely a Churchill tradition.

Thanks to the Music Department 2019:

  • Alison Cooper-White – Leader of Learning
  • Paul Harrison
  • Jeff Spencer
  • Jessica Dalwood